Well I got nothin’ ‘gainst the press/They wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true

After a few weeks of relative quiet, The Senator You Love To Hate ™, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, was back on Sunday with a new op ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. It spawned a bunch of trending social media hashtags, the expected negative responses from the usual suspects, and a few people asking me if I was going to write about it, lol. I guess I’ve found my branding angle.

So I pulled the op ed up on my laptop and read it with great anticipation—it made so many people angry that it MUST have something new and incendiary in it, right? Nope. It’s the same stuff he’s been saying since March, when the House Passed H1, the For The People Act.

  • Partisan voting laws engender mistrust? Check.
  • He won’t vote to abolish the filibuster? Check.
  • Let’s pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act? Check.

First, let me say that I have been calling Manchin’s office on a weekly basis to say that he should support voting rights, equal rights, a big infrastructure package, raising corporate tax rates, and that he should vote at least to bring back the talking filibuster. I’m in favor of keeping the filibuster with some significant changes because it is a powerful tool for a minority with party discipline.

I also think Manchin has a good point about the deleterious effect of one-party election lawmaking, and I’m fully aware that the laws the Democrats want to implement are good laws. But the country right now is a powder keg, and ripe for violence.  Right wingers have already shown they are open to using violence to overturn a lawful election.

Although I suspect most of the Republicans who tell pollsters that Joe Biden isn’t a legitimate president are just being jerks, there is still a significant number of people who believe that who are armed and who have no regard for laws. And I’d also listen to what a Democratic senator in a heavily trumpian state has to say about how to communicate effectively about election legitimacy.

But the thing that has gone unnoticed, after being brought up in March after the House passed HR1, is that the FTPA was dead in the Senate back then. It’s not just Joe Manchin who has issues with the bill as a whole and so it was never going to pass with zero changes.

One group that has objected to the current version of the FTPA is state election directors.

“Listen, I’ll do this—if the law passes, I’ll follow it,” said one state-level Democratic election director in the southeast who declined to be named. “But I can’t guarantee it’s not going to be a total clusterfuck the first election.”

The sections of the bill related to voting systems—wholly separate from its provisions on voting rights—show remarkably little understanding of the problems the authors apply alarmingly prescriptive solutions to. Many of the changes the bill demands of election administrators are literally impossible to implement. Others would significantly raise the cost of elections but provide no assured long-term funding.

This was news to me because the news media is generally too lazy to delve into things like this that aren’t as click-baity as “JOE MANCHIN BAD!!!”.

And there are cowardly Senate Democrats who oppose parts of the bill but insist on secrecy regarding their identities:

The most visible hurdle to date is the apparent opposition of Mr. Manchin, who said last week that he opposed allowing the federal government to wade into election law, which is typically left to the states. He signaled that he would be unwilling to vote for any elections bill that was not bipartisan, much less provide the 50th vote needed to change the Senate rules to get past an all-but-certain Republican filibuster….

Behind the scenes, two election lawyers close to the White House and congressional Democrats said Mr. Manchin was not the only one on their side with reservations about the measure. They insisted on anonymity to discuss the concerns because few Democrats want to concede that there are cracks in the coalition backing the measure or incur the wrath of the legion of liberal advocacy groups that have made its enactment their top priority.

And there is a group of senators who agree with Manchin that the best approach right now is the push for passage of the John Lewis Voting Right Advancement Act. Funny how that’s not being tweeted to the skies, huh? Who are these senators?  As it turns out, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have expressed some reservations about the feasibility of passing the FTPA:

The massive election reform measure known as H.R. 1 passed the House last month, but it has yet to win unified support from the 50-member Senate Democratic caucus amid a fierce GOP pushback effort that casts it as an aggressive consolidation of political power. With that Senate logjam in mind, a group of Black Democrats is pressing to elevate a more targeted voting rights bill — named for and championed by the late Rep. John Lewis — that they believe could be a more successful sell on Capitol Hill.

I want to make it very clear that I fully support the goals of HR/S1, and that while I think that in skillful hands the filibuster can be used to fight off bad laws it still needs to go. Providing context for an issue isn’t endorsing a position, it’s helping to create informed discussion.

If only the voting rights obstacle we are facing were as simple as what the media is feeding us–“Joe Manchin is bad”—because that could be remedied with a stick and a bunch of carrots.

Instead it’s much more complicated:  lawmakers are writing laws without input from election experts, moderate Democratic senators are afraid to stick out their necks, the House bill is way beyond what is feasible in the current political climate, and the media is more interested in quick click bucks than in presenting the actual context.

It’s clear something has to change. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he will put S1 to a vote this week. We’ll see if that happens.

5 thoughts on “Well I got nothin’ ‘gainst the press/They wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true

  1. There are some considerations towards what you are writing… that some groups are having misgivings about the legislation is a given, things like that have been happening since the first bills were proposed in the first House and Senate so long ago.

    Senators and Representatives are given the means to propose amendments to legislation in their respective branches which is then voted on to add to or change the main bill under consideration. The Bill, if it passes, is sent on to the other branch to accept or modify. If it is modified, the Bill is sent to a Conference Committee which attempts to smooth out differences. The result is sent back to the respective branches to accept or reject. If both branches accept, the Bill is considered ‘passed’ and goes to the President for approval/rejection.

    Broadly speaking, this is how it works in the United States federal government. Legislators know this. They also know that if a Bill passes but has problems, they can pass further legislation addressing the issues.

    … “But the country right now is a powder keg, and ripe for violence. Right wingers have already shown they are open to using violence to overturn a lawful election.”

    Perhaps. But giving into bullies will not make the bullies stop. Ask any kid. Ask any minority group in any country. If we give in on something so fundamentally important such as everyone having the right to vote, we all lose. Besides, there are lots of reports that people are leaving the Republican Party over things like the riot in D.C., give them a reason to go left in voting.

  2. An oldy but goody.

    A lovely concise way to understand what used to be taught in schools in civics courses. It should be directed toward to where it might do some good. Along with a list of states where the legislatures are busy demolishing voter rights.

  3. I note that there’s a provision of FTPA requiring non-partisan congressional redistricting. That provision has overwhelming support among Ds, Rs and Independents but I doubt even that could get 60 votes.

    So, basically, we have 18 months – at most – to get anything done? Is that the takeaway?

    “But the country right now is a powder keg, and ripe for violence.” – Assuming this is true, allowing fear to veto action to protect democracy because the GOP is beholden to/afraid of its base is the moral equivalent of negotiating with terrorists.

    1. i doubt that part could too—under McConnell. under different Senate leadership, who knows? and i agree that the window is only 18 mos, although i am cautiously optimistic about 2022.

      i take your point about not giving into terrorists, but i wasn’t advocating doing nothing. the John Lewis VRA will help and will also highlight Republican obstruction, because the FTPA does not even have 49 Dem votes in the Senate.

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